On Thursday, 14-year-old Karthik Nemmani of Texas won the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee. He beat 515 other students to win a prize worth $40,000.
A spelling bee is a spelling contest. Players take turns spelling words. Players who spell a word wrong are out of the contest. As the contest goes on, the words get more difficult. The contest is over when there is only one player left who has not made a mistake.
The contest was shown live on TV on ESPN. In the end, it came down to two players. Nemmani and Naysa Modi, a 12-year-old who is also from Texas.
This was Modi’s fourth time in the contest. She has been taking part since she was nine. Many people thought she might win. In fact, she beat Nemmani in a county spelling bee in March.
But when she was asked to spell the word “bewusstseinslage”, she missed. That gave Nemmani his chance. When he was asked to spell the word “koinonia”, he spelled it correctly, and won the contest.*
“She’s a really, really good speller,” Nemmani said. “She deserved the trophy as much as I did. I got lucky.” Nemmani said that he didn’t know a few of the words that got other students out.
But his winning wasn’t just luck. To get ready for the spelling bee, Nemmani spent at least four hours a day studying. He met with a spelling coach for four hours each week. And he had to skip some things he enjoys doing, like playing tennis.
“He was putting in so much work,” said his coach, Grace Walters. “Staying up late, getting up early, really…wanting to win this bee.”
For winning the contest, Nemmani will get a prize worth about $40,000. Modi’s prize for coming in second is worth about $30,000.
Is that an English word?
Koinonia is a Greek word. Bewusstseinslage is a German word. What’s going on here?
The words the students are asked to spell are chosen because they are hard. Many of the words came from other languages, but are English words now. Many, many English words come from other languages. Some common examples include piano, guitar, pizza, hamburger, coffee, and shampoo.
Different languages have different spelling rules. So students trying to learn to spell English words need to know about spelling rules from many different languages.
Nemmani described the contest this way: “We weren’t against each other. We were against the dictionary.”
*Like many words in the contest, the last two words are not only hard to spell, they are hard to explain. Koinonia is a sharing of thoughts and feelings among Christians. Bewusstseinslage describes when the brain is aware of something, or a feeling someone has that doesn’t come from their five senses.
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